The physical component of self-reliance is, in many ways, visible and assessable. You either live within your means or you don’t. You can measure how well you are budgeting or building up your food storage.
The spiritual aspect of self-reliance is much more difficult to define. How do you determine how spiritually self-reliant you are, and how do you increase it? It’s not as easy as balancing your income with your expenses.
In my 12-month self-reliance experiment, I’ve spent some time trying to answer this question, and for me, it comes down to one thing. How well do I receive personal revelation, and do I have the courage to allow it to guide my life? Spiritual self-reliance means that I don’t need a mediator, a middle man or a priesthood leader to receive clear spiritual direction: I can – and must – receive it directly into my own heart and mind.
Sister Barbara Thompson – former Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency – reflects on the account of Lehi teaching his family the gospel. Once Lehi had taught certain principles, “Nephi sought the guidance of the Lord in order to more fully understand the teachings of his father,” says Sister Thompson. “He was lifted, blessed, and inspired to know that the teachings of his father were true. That enabled Nephi to carefully follow the commandments of the Lord and live a righteous life. He received personal revelation to guide him.”
On the other hand, Laman and Lemuel were disputing with each other because they did not understand the teachings of their father. “Nephi then asked a very important question: ‘Have ye inquired of the Lord?’
“Their response was a weak one,” says Sister Thompson. “‘We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.’”
How can we become more like Nephi and less like his brothers: actively receiving clear answers to guide our lives rather than acting as helpless victims who must ‘wait’ to have things made known unto us?
For me, one of the most practical ways to do this is through meditation. In the few months that I’ve been practicing it, it has had a profoundly powerful effect on my life.
President David O. McKay said: “We pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion … Meditation is the language of the soul. It is defined as ‘a form of private devotion, or spiritual exercise, consisting in deep, continued reflection on some religious theme.’ Meditation is a form of prayer. [It] is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”
That definition is something to work towards, but I’ve started with the basics. I try to spend 10 or 15 minutes a day following a simple guided meditation that allows me to connect wholly with one train of thought. In the process, I also spend time being mindful of my body and my spirit overall. That might sound simple and possibly even trite. But in reality, it’s hugely challenging and enlightening.
Interested in trying it out? My friend Larissa Reed served her mission with me and has been meditating for some years. She has seen its miraculous effects in her life. I asked her for some basic beginner’s tips. She says:
Set and commit to a time once or twice a day. How long you spend on it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you DO it.
Move. Get your body doing something for a few minutes. Jumping jacks, yoga, a little jog – anything that gets your heart rate up.
Sit comfortably and prepare to watch the “show”. Your mind will give out all kinds of reasons not to sit in meditation. Push through it. You can find some great guided meditations on YouTube or you can just sit in silence and connect to yourself and your soul. Don’t have any expectations, only curiosity about what you will learn and feel. The purpose is not to clear your mind, it’s to hear your mind and feel your heart.
As I’ve practiced regular meditation I’ve found that I can correct myself more quickly and easily. I’m kinder to myself and others, and I’m more in tune with what the spirit is telling me.
Pam Blackwell, a meditation expert who teaches at BYU and authored Christ-centred Meditation: A Handbook for Spiritual Practice put it this way: “I think meditation is the major tool to enhancing our connection with our Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit,” she said. “I spend a lot more time during the day in a relaxed, receptive spiritual state. If I’m prayerful about something, I am much more aware of the answers all around me. I live in a pretty joyous state; I’m in a good mood—a ‘God mood.’”
 Barbara Thompson, General Conference Address, October 2011
 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, Chapter 4
 Pam Blackwell, Mormon Channel Blog, April 2015 (www.mormonchannel.org/blog/post/faithful-meditation)